Sylvain Luc: A Night in Tunisia

Sylvain Luc has been one of the new wonders of jazz guitar in France for the last 15 years, and his Trio Sud has him playing with two other great musicians and good friends. It takes that to follow his guitar on its inventive forays through rhythms and harmony, with a constant attention to melody. Here, he never strays far from the song's theme, yet plays with it in a way that brings new surprise every few bars. Incredibly long phrases, chords sequences whose rhythm varies endlessly, little countermelodies – this is imagination at its best, with an almost acoustic sound that lets the fantastic technique speak for itself without the help of any electric device.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli: Night and Day

Although a number of Stéphane Grappelli CDs were released after his death in 1997, the music on most, if not all, predated this 1995 live recording. On this track, Grappelli begins with the verse in a pensive manner and then subtly embellishes the familiar melody, enhancing it with aptly placed upper-register asides. Burr's aggressive, resonant basslines are in stark contrast to Pizzarelli's laid-back rhythm guitar. Bucky solos next in his inimitable style, strummed passages mixing with delicately picked phrases and rich chords. He and Stéphane then improvise in tandem, weaving their enticing lines to a dramatically descending resolution that elicits a burst of applause. Grappelli ends the piece much as he started, softening his attack as he comes to a clever, yet unexpected conclusion utilizing just a small segment of the theme. Even at age 87, Grappelli was still an undiminished master of the jazz violin.

March 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stéphane Grappelli & Claude Bolling: Cute

Better late than never. Not only was this session Stéphane Grappelli's only recording with a big band, this track also finds him playing a tune he may never have performed before and sharing the spotlight with a flutist, perhaps another first. Bolling's arrangement is, as Grappelli shouts out at the end of another selection on the CD, "First class!" Bassist Sorin and drummer Cordelette lay down a driving foundation for the stirring improvisations of Grappelli and flutist Schirrer, and the orchestra plays its fanfares and intricate unison passages with gusto and a velvety blend of instruments. "Cute" is but one of 14 delicious tracks on a remarkable CD that as a whole is a unique must-have from Grappelli's lengthy discography (a DVD version is available as well).

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & McCoy Tyner: I Want To Talk About You

When one hears another version of this tune, John Coltrane's 1963 emotionally charged interpretation from his Live at Birdland release immediately comes to mind, especially Trane's awe-inspiring one-of-a- kind coda. Grappelli and Tyner (pianist on that Trane masterpiece) approach this performance from a more romantic, less beseeching point of view. At the same relaxed tempo as Coltrane's, Grappelli essays the lilting theme with a semi-sweet vibrato, Tyner offering full-bodied support to the violinist's tender yet fervent variations. Stéphane's cascading solo is similarly both delicate and profound, and McCoy's all-too-brief improv that follows is laden with majestic chords. As Grappelli lingers lovingly on the melody while the track nears its conclusion, you lean forward in hopeful anticipation of a coda from the violinist that, alas, never comes. Grappelli and Tyner first performed together three years prior for a Maryland Public Broadcasting event, and this recorded collaboration between the then 82-year-old young-at-heart violin giant and one of the most influential pianists in jazz history was the fortunate end result.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli and David Grisman: Tiger Rag

Stéphane Grappelli played concerts as well as recorded with David Grisman's captivating acoustic string group, which enjoyed several years of great popularity before its members parted ways in the early 1980s. The group, in a way, was an eclectic re-imagining of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with bluegrass and folk elements added to the mix. This track features Grappelli with fellow violinist Mark O'Connor, who was mentored by Stéphane starting at age 17 and went on to a successful career encompassing the jazz, country and classical fields, including his Hot Swing Trio. Grappelli introduces this "Tiger Rag" as "a transcription for two violins," but after their mostly unison intricate exposition, the rest of the group enters the fray and Grappelli and O'Connor perform dazzling solos and exchanges, Mark's slight country twang helping to distinguish him from Stéphane. Grisman's energetic mandolin picking prods them along. Said O'Connor of Grappelli years later: "The last time we played together was about a year before his death. He gripped my hand strongly afterwards and would not let go of it for 30 minutes. I understood that he wanted me to carry on his memory."

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli: Blues for Django and Stéphane

This is a priceless example of Stéphane Grappelli's inspiring interaction with younger musicians, who were always floored by his vitality and skill. This session not only tried to channel the spirit of Django Reinhardt, but on this track Larry Coryell's infectious Texas-style guitar evokes Charlie Christian, and Grappelli surprises us with a deftly executed piano solo ranging from stride to barrelhouse with stops in between. Grappelli also contributes a concise, blues-drenched violin solo that contains highly expressive upper- register explorations. The two guitarists' prancing blues riff, which both opens and closes the piece, also adds to the success of this memorable track.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Oscar Peterson: Them There Eyes

Stéphane Grappelli was extremely active in 1973, with at least eight recording sessions that year alone, and the date with Oscar Peterson was probably the best. Peterson was in the rhythm section for the 1957 Violins No End album that featured Grappelli and Stuff Smith, but it wasn't until 1973 that Stéphane and Oscar got to go at each other one on one, as on this duet track (Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Kenny Clarke filled out the quartet elsewhere). Peterson's rollicking intro precipitates Grappelli's sizzling entrance, immediately improvising on the melody. His breakneck lines are beautifully structured, with many engaging riffs sprinkled about. Peterson's following solo is very bluesy, with a ringing tone and a great variety to his attack as he builds in intensity and creativity, very cogent and controlled. The violinist takes the out-choruses swinging hard, again using catchy riffs to great effect, ending with another highly embellished reprise of the theme. Grappelli always regretted not getting to the U.S. before one of his early inspirations, Art Tatum, passed away. Peterson was as close as Stéphane would get to that great pianist's style, and one can sense the excitement he felt at this opportunity, which Peterson clearly reciprocated.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Gary Burton: Falling Grace

This was a match made in heaven. The young Gary Burton was touring Europe and the then 64-year-old Stéphane Grappelli was performing regularly at the Hilton Hotel in Paris when Atlantic Records recorded them. Stéphane and Gary are both lyrical players, romantic and delicate on ballads, but capable of playing with an edge and an ecstatic propulsion at quicker tempos. Both also make their formidable technique subservient to their expressiveness, with no wasted notes or unfocused flashiness. Steve Swallow's rhapsodic "Falling Grace," which he wrote for Bill Evans, was a perfect vehicle for Grappelli and Burton to react and interact. Swallow's booming basslines are also worth noting, anchoring the group's overall sound. The year 1969 was a turning point for Grappelli, as he also had recorded meetings that year with Joe Venuti and Barney Kessel, and visited the U.S. for the first time to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival (albeit in the rain and while oblivious youngsters rioted around him). He never looked back, and went on to finally become an international star.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Stuff Smith: How High The Moon

Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith were, along with Joe Venuti, the most significant and influential early jazz violinists. Stéphane and Stuff display their contrasting styles on this version of "How High the Moon" from 1965, just two years before Stuff's death. Smith had the coarser, straighter tone with little if any vibrato, played with more blues feeling due to the way he slurred his notes, and sometimes would hit a string with his bow in a way that produced a plucked effect. Grappelli's more elegant style grew out of the classical and Gypsy guitar traditions, and he had the admirable ability to maintain his rich vibrato at any tempo and in any register. Bix Beiderbecke's piano playing, Grappelli once said, had "a fantastic psychological effect on me." Smith's style, on the other hand, he said was inspired more by such horn players as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Red Nichols. You can hear all that and more on this track, as the violinists challenge each other, playing intricate, careening lines in their distinctive solos. After pianist Urtreger's well played, boppish improv, Stéphane and Stuff trade passages in exciting fashion, and then give drummer Delaporte some space, which he utilizes skillfully. Very hot jazz from a hot group.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli: Body and Soul

Stéphane Grappelli's career flew a bit under the radar in the 1950s, although he toured Europe and England and regularly played club, hotel and cabaret dates. A first American tour with Django Reinhardt was planned in 1953, but Stéphane could not locate the elusive Gypsy and then learned that Django had died of a stroke. This track from 1956 shows Grappelli in top form, and as masterful as ever on a ballad. His embellished reading of the melody recalls Coleman Hawkins to some extent, but the gracefully structured lines and gorgeous tone are uniquely his own. Stéphane seasons his solo with a speck of dissonance here and there, and some characteristic swoops into the upper register. For contrast he also speeds up some of his runs, displaying impressive technique while doing so. Pianist Vander's understated accompaniment adds just the right touch.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt: Ultrafox

Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt met in 1931, but did not play together until 1933, at which time the idea for a string quintet began to form (although Django would have preferred a drummer to a third guitar). The Quintette du Hot Club de France recorded from 1934 until 1939, when World War II led to its breakup. While Django received much of the acclaim, Stéphane shared the solo space and more than held his own. On the medium-tempo "Ultrafox" (the title a takeoff on the Ultraphone record company which released the side), Grappelli engagingly plays the jaunty theme that sounds a bit like "Four or Five Times." Django solos first with delicate, precise lines, then a contrasting chordal section, and finally back to glittering extended runs. Grappelli enters swinging hard, displaying a full, glowing tone and ripping off flawlessly executed lines comparable in impact to Django's, ending with a neat stop-and-start coda punctuated by the guitarist's strummed counterpoint.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Géraldine Laurent: I Fall in Love Too Easily

It's pretty bold for a young French lady alto sax player (not the most common type of musician) to record her first CD in trio, with no harmonic instrument. But Géraldine Laurent doesn't really do anything like everybody: she came late to Paris where she played mostly small clubs, and rarely as a sideman, and all of a sudden she's the talk of the town and records for a big label. With good reason, too: she has a sound of her own – raw with a slight Jackie McLean edge to it; her phrasing is unpredictable and inventive, both when she plays the melody of a standard and when she improvises; and her repertoire includes Ornette, Mingus, and Shorter. So she can afford to start with a trio record, all the more since her partners are good musicians and have played with her long. Who said talent needed guest stars to be recognized?

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Christian Escoudé: After You've Gone

The international audience may not be aware of Christian Escoudé, but his peers know better. Outside of France, he has recorded with the likes of John McLaughlin or Charlie Haden. In his native country, he is considered a great. Here, Escoudé goes back to his Gypsy roots, even if he usually doesn't want to be confined to this genre. His Gypsy trio (Sylvestre being the only non-Gypsy) both pays homage to the tradition and explores the possibilities that this setting offers to three acoustic guitar players with contemporary influences. Virtuosity, tight interaction between creative soloing and fairly traditional strumming, expressive moans and groans – this all conjures up popular cafés in the outskirts of Paris where Gypsy musicians often meet. But these definitely don't sound like orthodox followers of Django Reinhardt.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benoit Delbecq: Bogolan

A repetitive, haunting melody in the piano's upper middle register starts the tune. When the rest of the band joins in, the song soon acquires a Monkish twist, given an airy feel by clarinet and bass clarinet. This song is mostly about melodic lines that intertwine on an earthy, repetitive structure. And it's fascinating to hear the reeds create, by little touches, new sonic landscapes over this stable melodic basis.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu: Clarendon Hills

In 1984, John McLaughlin put together a new band and called it Mahavishnu. He said he named it that because it had the same spirit as his Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact, there was a behind-the-scenes effort to put the original band back together. It did not work. In the end, Billy Cobham, from the original band, did join with John for this recording. However, a rift developed between McLaughlin and Cobham at this time, and Billy did not tour with the new Mahavishnu.

The sound of this Mahavishnu was more sophisticated. It was not dirty or rough as perhaps preferred by McLaughlin's older fans. But its players were from the higher echelons. Hellborg and Forman were going places. Cobham had already been. Bill Evans had the knowledge and the ability to play side by side with McLaughlin on stage. John was now playing an early guitar synthesizer made by the Synclavier people. In concert, the Synclavier was a big hit. It was as if McLaughlin could play any instrument he wanted at any time. He would flick a few switches to start playing with a music patch he had earlier input into the device. He would play trumpet, trombone or a keyboard instrument. He could play any instrument really. It was fascinating. And he didn't play those patches like a guitar player would. He would phrase as a trumpet, trombone or keyboard player would. This set him apart from all of the other guitar players trying to work these newfangled guitar synthesizers. But hearing him play the Synclaivier was entirely different on record. You couldn't see all that stuff he was doing. So you would listen to the new recording and wonder where the heck the world's greatest guitar player was? You just couldn't hear him! The compositions were good enough musically to carry some weight. But in the end, the experiment failed. One tune, though, did overcome this obstacle.

"Clarendon Hills" was written by saxophonist Bill Evans, who had left Miles Davis to join Mahavishnu. It didn't matter if McLaughlin's axe sounded like a bagpipe on this one. (For the record, it sounded sort of like a combination trombone and Moog.) The tune was that good. "Clarendon Hills" kicks some serious ass. It is introduced with a full-on clarion call. It quickly evolves into a driving jazz-rock anthem. This band could groove! Then there is sudden calm. Evans plays a beautiful section. McLaughlin, sounding like Evans at first, takes over midstream. Sonorously, he flies above the music. He's captured a wave. The band needs to calm down to contemplate what they have just done. After some soothing electric meddling, Cobham ramps things up for the final call of this awesome horn and pseudo-brass section. It may have not been totally real. But it was totally great.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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